Fall and spring grazing influence fire ignitability and initial spread in shrub steppe communities

TitleFall and spring grazing influence fire ignitability and initial spread in shrub steppe communities
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsDavies, KW
Secondary AuthorsGearhart, A
Tertiary AuthorsBoyd, CS
Subsidiary AuthorsBates, JD
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Start Page485
Keywordsfuel management, fuel moisture, fuels and fuel treatments, grazing management, grazing–fire interaction, sagebrush, technical reports and journal articles, wildfire suppression

The interaction between grazing and fire influences ecosystems around the world. However, little is known about the influence of grazing on fire, in particular ignition and initial spread and how it varies by grazing management differences. We investigated effects of fall (autumn) grazing, spring grazing and not grazing on fuel characteristics, fire ignition and initial spread during the wildfire season (July and August) at five shrub steppe sites in Oregon, USA. Both grazing treatments decreased fine fuel biomass, cover and height, and increased fuel moisture, and thereby decreased ignition and initial spread compared with the ungrazed treatment. However, effects differed between fall and spring grazing. The probability of initial spread was 6-fold greater in the fall-grazed compared with the spring-grazed treatment in August. This suggests that spring grazing may have a greater effect on fires than fall grazing, likely because fall grazing does not influence the current year’s plant growth. Results of this study also highlight that the grazing–fire interaction will vary by grazing management. Grazing either the fall or spring before the wildfire season reduces the probability of fire propagation and, thus, grazing is a potential fuel management tool.